Charter Schools Still a Good Choice for Missouri
For more than 20 years, charter schools have been providing parents across the nation with an alternative to the traditional public schools that might otherwise have been their only educational option. As of 2009, 40 states and the District of Columbia had authorized charter schools, and more than 4,700 such schools served more than 1.4 million students throughout the country. Many of these schools specialize in meeting the needs of a specific type of student — such as those who live in impoverished communities, show poor academic performance in a traditional setting, or have particular academic gifts or interests — and charter schools usually require significantly less taxpayer funding per student than their traditional counterparts. Charter schools are so popular that, nationwide, more than 365,000 students are on waiting lists because of the lack of available seats.
Given the popularity of this type of reform, and the continuing discussion of charter schools in Missouri, the Show-Me Institute commissioned a study to determine what recent research (published between 2004 and 2008) has shown regarding the impact of charter schools on students’ academic performance.
The highest-quality studies show that charter schools in New York City, Chicago, and Boston appear to improve their students’ academic performances dramatically. Most of the other studies suggest that, although students tend to struggle during their first year after transitioning into a charter school, and although it takes most such students a couple of years to match the academic performance of nearby traditional public schools, charter schools on the whole are performing as well as, or slightly better than, nearby traditional public schools. The research also suggests that competition from charter schools can, in some cases, produce a slight improvement in the academic performance of traditional public schools — although the performance of traditional schools more frequently remains unchanged. Finally, the research shows that the impact of charter schools is not uniformly positive. One study of North Carolina’s charter schools suggested that they were lagging behind traditional public schools, and that student performance in the traditional public schools had dipped slightly as well.
The scholars who produced the Show-Me Institute’s study did not have access to research that looked specifically at how Missouri’s charter schools were performing — but, fortunately, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes recently published a paper offering just this sort of analysis. The Stanford study revealed that, taken as a whole, Missouri’s charter schools are attracting students who were underperforming in their traditional public schools, and that Missouri’s charter students are realizing larger academic gains than their counterparts who remain in traditional public schools.
It is comforting to have evidence that Missouri’s charter schools are helping to improve the academic performance of students who were struggling in traditional public schools. Even more essential, however, is the fact that charter schools give many parents educational choices that their income level might not otherwise afford them. While wealthy families can afford tuition costs for private schools that cater to the specific environment or curriculum they want for their children — such as an emphasis on safety, discipline, language immersion, or college preparation — charter schools can offer parents these same features without many of the additional costs associated with private schools. Thus, the encouragement of charter schools continues to be a desirable policy for Missouri, creating avenues to success for our state’s parents and students.
Dave Roland is an expert on school choice programs and a policy analyst with the Show-Me Institute.